Monday, 19 June 2017

Happy Birthday! Family traditions

Today my second son turned ten. He has spent most of the day in our paddling pool as the weather is so very hot, and apparently this has made it one of his best ever birthdays!

No book work for the children on their birthdays is one of our family traditions. It means that we can have a relaxed start to the day, and they can have time to play with any new presents and start any new books.

This makes it easier to fit in another birthday tradition - the birthday child's choice of breakfast. We often cook breakfast anyway, but the children usually choose pancakes for breakfast on their birthdays, which is a bit more time consuming.

When the children were younger, we allowed them to choose what theme or design that they would like for their birthday cake, and we would attempt to make what they asked for. As they have grown older, they have increasingly wanted to help make their own cakes, especially with the decoration.

My eldest helped quite a bit with his dalek cake last year:

Dalek Cake

My 8 year old covered his dinosaur cake in smarties:

Stegosaurus Cake

Yesterday, my now 10 year old spent hours in the kitchen creating this masterpiece, with very little help from me at all:

The finished cake...

...with a surprise in the middle!

He loves baking, and has been planning this for weeks.

When my eldest turned 10, we decided that we'd add two new "gifts" for his birthday: a new privilege, and an additional responsibility. We did the same for our second son today. He will now receive a more substantial (though still not enormous) amount of weekly pocket money, and he has some additional cleaning to do each week. It's not a massive change - he already has a fair number of regular chores - but it is a way of us indicating that we expect his responsibilities to increase as he gets older, and that the freedoms and privileges that come with age are tied to these responsibilities.

Of course, we also have presents and cards, and often a party or at least a birthday tea with friends (depending on the preferences of each child). Often, our celebrations are fairly simple, but they are remembered fondly and anticipated eagerly.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 60

We're nearly there - a week into the final half term of the year, and we are all anticipating the summer holidays eagerly. There is a mixture of wanting to push ahead to get the final pages of our work finished up, and a general tiredness which means that we need to take things a bit more slowly. Happily, we are well on track to finish on time, so there is a little bit of space for me to lighten the load if I think we need it.

I decided that we could manage well enough this week if we had an easier Monday. I scheduled nothing except history, art, and swimming lessons. We also went for a walk (including some trampolining on an abandoned mattress), and did some educational cooking at the childrens' request.

Running up the hill via a mattress.

My daughter helped make these egg-men in bread, which are supposed to represent God giving his people a home, from our bake-through-the Bible cookbook - which has been a bit neglected recently. A quiet day was a good opportunity to pick it up again.

My 9 year old asked if he could do an activity from one of the science books that has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, which they are reading through as our home education group is one of the judging panels again this year. He chose to make a baked Alaska - which was great fun as well as a good opportunity to talk about science!

Baked Alaska

It worked! Ice cream still frozen.

It also tasted good!

We took the afternoon to complete an art lesson, drawing fish using a video from ArtAchieve.

After a more restful Monday than usual, we continued our week with our normal routine lessons. Highlights included making a sundial in the garden for science. It's perfect weather for it, and it worked really well.

My 8 year old building a sundial.

Next week will include a 10th birthday, and, according to the weather forecast, some hot days. I will adjust plans accordingly!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 59

This Friday evening, I am feeling a little bleary-eyed after a broken night following the election results. An atypical end to a week that has included a beautiful parkrun in Durham, a visit to a windmill in Brixton, and my daughter outrunning the police!

The election has been a frequent topic of conversation in our house (I've written here about engaging children in politics). The older two are fascinated, and have an increasing grasp of the nuances of politics. My 8 year old also enjoyed learning a little more about our democracy, and my 5 year old insisted on joining in our family election prediction competition although she doesn't properly understand what is going on yet. In fact, she won the competition as her haphazard guessing was more accurate than anyone else's considered prediction.

Predicting the results of the general election.

Our trip to Brixton Windmill was worthwhile. It is certainly an unexpected sight in a little London park. The children enjoyed climbing up to the top of the windmill and learning about how it worked in the past. They were also able to watch the electric mill in action, and also to try out milling by hand.

Brixton Windmill

Before we began our long journey south last Saturday, I took my daughter to the Durham parkrun, as she is so enthusiastic about running at the moment. It was fun to try a different course, and my 5 year old managed to run the whole distance again. Michael and the boys watched us and shouted encouragement. Some of the boys are keen to join us soon - but they want to build up to managing the whole 5km first.

Durham Parkrun

When I took the children running during the week, my 5 year old ran so far ahead of me on our 2 mile run (2 laps of the park) that some policemen thought she was unaccompanied and tried to catch up with her - but couldn't keep up! I know this because another police officer caught up with her on his bike and told me about it. To be fair, I was not far behind, and she was running to my friend who was waiting for her in the playground - but she has been told not to go so far ahead next time nonetheless...

She was unaware of all this until the end of her two mile run, is completely unfazed by it all - just thrilled that she outran everyone - and she was fast! More running tomorrow as she has been counting down the days until her next parkrun.

As often on a Friday, we had our home education group. We were looking at Ecuador, and the children completed crafts about the rainforest layers. We also had our book groups where, in addition to our usual activities, we distributed the science books which have been shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, for which our home education group is a judging panel. It was great fun last year, and there is already a lot of excitement about this year's books. My children are already asking if we can microwave marshmallows - and I'm sure that many more activities will be inspired by these excellent looking books.

Rainforest Picture

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Committed Reader Books (10 Year Old's Choices)

The Christian reading challenge that we embarked upon at the beginning of the year is still going well, and my 10 year old is ready to begin the Committed level. Here are the books that he has chosen:

1) A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with: Monks and Mystics by Mindy & Brandon Withrow
2) A book about Christian living:  Commanded by L. H. Martin
3) A book about apologetics: Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb by Val Grieve
4) A book of your choice: The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
5) A humorous book: Captain Underpants & The Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey
6) A book based on a true story: The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu
7) A book about prayer: Enjoy your Prayer Life by Michael Reeve
8) A book of poetry: The Mighty Slide by Allan Ahlberg
9) A book with a one-word title: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
10) A book by Sinclair Ferguson: The Magnificent Amazing Time Machine: A Journey Back to the Cross by Sinclair Ferguson
11) A novel by an author you have never read before: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
12) A book about Christian living: A Young Person’s Guide to Knowing God by Patricia St. John
13) A memoir or autobiography:  Children of the Storm by Natasha Vins
14) A play by William Shakespeare: Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb
15) A book of your choice: The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
16) A book written by an author with initials in their name: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
17) A book by a female author: Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
18) A book about theology: Courage and Conviction by Mindy & Brandon Withrow
19) A book published by Crossway: Reformation ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols
20) A self-improvement book: Learning to be Happy by Jeremiah Burroughs
21) A graphic novel: Tintin and the Broken Ear by Herge
22) A book you own but have never read: Millions: The Not-So-Great Train Robbery by Frank Cottrell Boyce
23) A book targeted at the other gender: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
24) A book about Christian living: The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton
25) A book of your choice: Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke
26) A book about race or racial issues: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Friday, 2 June 2017

Friday Reflections - 58

We have spent this last week in the north east of England, having house-swapped with some friends. A complete change of scene and of pace of life has been restorative, and we have filled our week with a variety of activities that we can't normally enjoy.

We began at a bird reserve, where we caught sight of various birds that we don't usually see, including a spoohbill that a member of staff showed to us through a telescope.

Gleeful Girl 

Spot the Difference (They Insisted on Identical Coats!)
One visit was to Beamish, an outdoor museum where in various sections different aspects of life in the past are reconstructed. The children particularly appreciated the Pit Village and the Town, both of which depict life in the 1900s. They even got to go to school!

The mine visit was popular.

Practising handwriting, maths, and Latin - voluntarily!

Glorious sunshine meant a trip to the beach was in order. Splashing in the water, playing catch, digging sandcastles, eating ice creams, and, inevitably, reading all featured.

Sunny Day by the Sea

Reading on the Beach

Yesterday we headed off to visit Housesteads Roman Fort and Hadrian's Wall. I'm sure the children took in some history as we wandered round, but most of all they decided that it was a great place for exploring and playing hide-and-seek. Plus, I came home with a Latin crossword book from the gift shop - so we were all happy.

Housesteads Roman Fort

Exploring the Fort

Hadrian's Wall

Hiding in a Hypocaust 

Amidst all this, we have managed some quiet mornings and evenings, involving reading and resting and some running. I hope that we will go back sufficiently energised to face our final half term and finish our academic year well.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 57

Last Saturday, as planned, I took my daughter to parkrun. It was hard work for her, but she kept on running for the whole 5km, and was delighted to have managed it. She's been counting down the days until the next run (tomorrow)!

Post-Running Photo

Beautiful sunshine, half term approaching, the summer holidays in sight; all this seems to make everything feel a little less fraught - some of the time. The children all seem to be at about the stage I'd like them to be at at this time of year, so we should be able to finish steadily rather than in a rush.

We've been in the garden more, and enjoyed our walks together.

Some Unusual Statues

Bubbles in the Rose Garden

More Statues...

Cuddles with the Guinea Pigs

Today we met for our home education group. We were looking at Chile, and we made bubble wands from copper wire since copper is the main export of Chile. A little tenuous, but great fun to make, and we had the perfect weather to try them out in the church garden at the end of our session. I was pleased that they worked!

Bubble Wands made from Copper Wire

Next week, we are swapping houses with some friends who live in the North East of England, so we eagerly anticipating a week away with all sorts of trips out planned. A break from routine and from lessons will be welcomed by us all.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 56

Last weekend, the children put up their tent in the garden for the first time this year. They have spent much of their break times - rain or shine - in there with books or games. It has made for a quiet house at times!

We met with friends for running again, which went down well with my 5 year old daughter and my 9 year old son. They both managed further than last time, as did their friend who ran with us, but my daughter excelled herself by managing to run (without either walking or stopping!) a full 5K. Tomorrow I plan take her along to Parkrun for the first time, something she has been very keen to try.

My 5 year old and me after our run.

We have also managed to fit in one or two activities that have been squeezed out for various reasons over the last couple of weeks. One was a Nature Walk, searching for ants and drawing them.

Looking for ants.

Drawing ants.

My 11 Year Old's Drawing

Michael also taught a couple of science lessons, including one on convection currents using a pan of water balanced over our hob, some ice, and some food dye.

Convection Currents Experiment

The Food Dye Shows the Currents

Other highlights of the week included my daughter slipping on a banana skin (yes, really - she was utterly thrilled!), and my 8 year old moving onto a new maths book (he's very happy). Both of these events seemed very significant to my two youngest children!

Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 55

This week has meant the children enjoying some of their favourite activities - cooking, reading, park trips, and a birthday.

We began with our church lunch on Sunday, and my younger two decided to cook this time round. My daughter made chocolate orange cookies, while my youngest son made a lemon cheesecake.

Making Cookies

As well as our usual walks this week, we also met up with some friends in the park so that I could run with any of the children who were keen to do so. My 9 year old and 5 year old had a go as well as one of their friends - and we hope to try to run regularly together.

Our home education group met today, and we were looking at Peru. My youngest two were working together on a presentation, and they did a pretty good job. We did a little weaving, and made guinea pigs models out of fondant icing (so we could eat them!).

Simple Weaving

My 5 Year Old's Weaving

Edible Guinea Pigs

My 7 year old turned 8 this week. He has been so excited about his birthday this year - and he had a lovely day. Pancakes for breakfast, a dinosaur birthday cake, and a friend coming round for tea were highlights - as well as his presents, of course.

Opening the gift from his siblings - model guinea pigs in a hutch.

Birthday Boy and Birthday Lego

For me, of course, his birthday means remembering when he was born. My 8 year old was born on the day of my Grandad's funeral, which made for a very emotional day. I attended the funeral 6 days overdue in a difficult pregnancy (due to pelvic pain). I somehow dragged myself around on crutches while in early labour, then went home and had a baby later that evening! I'm glad I went, though.

My Grandad was a godly and kind man whose faith in Jesus was clearly central to his life, and remembering the day when my son was born reminds me of him; not so much of my sadness at his death, but all the good memories of his life. I especially remember going to stay with my Granny and Grandad a couple of times as a student when Cambridge life was a little overwhelming, and seeing for the first time the habit that my grandparents had of sitting and praying together for their children and grandchildren before turning in for the night. It was moving then, and is how I remember my Grandad now: quietly caring, godly, and faithful.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Friday Reflections - 54

We decided to make the most of a bonus family day on the bank holiday last Monday, and headed off for a walk along the Thames including a ride in the cable cars over the river. It didn't go quite as planned; one child was too scared to go on the cable cars so I took him under the river on the tube instead, then we got caught in a very heavy rain shower on a section of the path where there was nowhere to shelter. We don't normally mind rain, but we were less prepared than usual and it was a bit miserable for a few minutes! However, we still enjoyed most of our walk, and a trip to McDonald's on the way home warmed us and cheered us after we all got soaked.

A View from the Cable Cars

Smiles before the Rain

The rest of the week has been busy with our work, with a few walks and activities along the way. We have been in South and Central America for our history this week, and we had fun using the Mayan number system as part of this.

Mayan Numbers

One of our regular walks takes us through a small wood, which is an especially lovely place to walk at the moment.


Next week, we have our first birthday of the year when my 7 year old turns 8. He's anticipating his birthday with much excitement, including a request for pancakes for breakfast, and being allowed to help make his own cake. The other children have been working hard making presents for him, so we are all looking forward to the celebrations.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Day-to-Day Life - Home Education in Pictures

Often I am asked what a normal day is like for us. We have a fairly structured approach to home education, but this still leaves plenty of time for all kinds of fun.

In photos, here are some of the typical activities you might see in our day to day lives:

1) A Day Plan. The diary comes out at the beginning of the day as everyone likes to know how much we are hoping to get done. Ticking items off is very satisfying.

My Home Education Planning Diary

2) Book Work. This is my marking box at the end of a day's work - they manage to get plenty done, and this takes up the largest amount of time in any given day. This isn't all the work they do as some things just need looking over as they do them.

A Full Marking Box

3) Cuddling Pets. The hamster is out most of the day, keeping my eldest company while he works. The guinea pigs are outside at this time of year, but still receive plenty of cuddles.

My 11 Year Old with his Hamster

4) Cooking. Not every day - no one could manage that much cake - but baking is a very popular activity.

My 9 Year Old and a Cake He Made

Baking Fun

5) Board Games. The children often get board games out to play together. Even the 5 year old is remarkably competent and even beats her brothers at times. I've written here and here about some of our favourite games.

Ticket to Ride

6) Hands-on Learning. Usually this happens in science or history, where the curriculum has good ideas for activities (so I don't have to think of any!). 

Science - Learning about Friction

Practising Mayan Numbers for History

7) Mess. Mud or paint or glue or cake mix everywhere. Or, on one unfortunate occasion recently, pictures in permanent marker drawn on arms. 

A Particularly Sandy Trip to the Park

8) Multi-tasking. My recipe book stand often has a child's text book on so that I can teach and cook at the same time. With 4 children all working at the same time, I'm often needed all over the place at once. Sometimes I can deploy children to help each other for a while, or arrange the work so that I can help one at a time, but often it is an opportunity for children to learn patience.

Ironing and Teaching Spelling

9) Day Trips. Again, not every day or every week, but we often make trips to museums or other places of interest as an important supplement to our learning. We make the most of being able to make visits during term time when places are often a little quieter.

British Museum Trip

10) Books. We all love to read - which is a real delight to me. It is rare that we go anywhere without at least some children taking a book in readiness for a quiet moment. I also set a wide range of books for the children, and spend the first chunk of time after breakfast reading aloud. This is a very popular bit of the day.

Books at the Park

11) Outdoors. We aim to go for a walk daily. Sometimes this is just a trip to the local playground, sometimes a longer nature walk. Even when we are all a bit tired, it lifts us all a bit to get some fresh air.

A Walk in our Local Park

12) Bible. God's Word is at the heart of what we aim to do in our family - from morning devotions over breakfast to conversations in the park, from formal sessions during our home education day to Bible reading at bed time. 

Psalm 1 Picture